Diving for Answers: How Adventures With Purpose Found the Bodies of 16 Missing People and Counting Since 2019
In 2018, Oregon-based scuba diver Jared Leisek started removing debris from local rivers and posting videos of the dives to his YouTube channel, Adventures With Purpose. That's when the families of missing people around the country began to take notice.
Last month, bodies believed to be that of a pregnant woman and her 22-month-old daughter who went missing in 1998 were pulled out of an Arkansas lake, along with their submerged vehicle, by a group of volunteer divers called “Adventures With Purpose.”
It was the 16th missing persons discovery made by the non-profit since 2019 — an extraordinary feat partly made possible by their popular YouTube channel, which has nearly 1.5 million subscribers, according to founder Jared Leisek.
But before solving cold cases, Leisek started out in 2018 by doing cleanup dives in his local Oregon waterways.
He found all sorts of things in the water — iPhones, sunglasses, scrap metal, garbage — and posted videos of the dives to YouTube, with a goal of cleaning up 2,000 pounds of debris in the next three months.
“We hit that goal within three weeks, and then it kind of escalated from there,” Leisek told Inside Edition Digital.
Leisek began recruiting friends for help on the dives and eventually moved onto recovering submerged vehicles. Over time, cars become “soft sponges” underwater, and oils start to leach into the environment, Leisek says.
As the recoveries became bigger and more complex, so did their equipment.
They got bigger lift bags to float cars up to the surface and picked up sonar equipment “rather than accidentally running into them in these murky waters,” Leisek said.
Then, a turning point came in the fall of 2019.
“Families [of missing people] saw what it is that we were capable of,” Leisek said. “We can go out. We can search. We can find. We can float, and we can recover these vehicles. ‘We have a lost loved one. Jared, do you think that you and your organization can come help us out?’”
One of the first to reach out was the family of Nathan Ashby, a Missouri 22-year-old who went missing in July of 2019.
Investigators had used sonar to detect a truck resembling Ashby’s at the bottom of the Missouri River, but were reportedly unable to place divers in the water because of the depth and strong river currents.
“I turned to Sam [Ginn], who's my main dive partner and buddy, and I said, ‘Sam, are you up for taking a 32-hour trip to Warrenton, Missouri?’” Leisek said.
By 9 a.m. they were in the water, with the support of local authorities. By 6 p.m. they had Ashby and his truck on land.
When COVID-19 hit, the group spent time in lockdown like the rest of the country, but reunited for another vehicle recovery in Oregon — the deepest one yet.
Believing they were just going in for another car, the group livestreamed the process. But they had to cut the cameras and call 911 when Leisek realized a body was inside the vehicle as it was pulled to the surface.
“This is Timothy Robinson, who went missing 12 years earlier and left a note that said, ‘I'm going to the river to a boat ramp, and I am taking myself out.’ And here we are, 12 years later. We now have been able to give that family answers,’” Leisek said.
Eventually they put out an edited video on YouTube, which has since been viewed over 9 million times.
After the Robinson case, Leisek and Ginn, along with towing expert Doug Bishop, really shifted their focus to solving more cold cases. They bought a used RV for their gear and traveled the U.S. for 45 days, working another 30-something cases and solving two more.
As a rule, they don't charge families, and fund their efforts with YouTube revenue and donations, Leisek says.
Since then, Adventures With Purpose has worked on dozens more cases and found 11 more missing people across the country.
One of them was Tammy Goff, a Montana woman who had been missing for nearly three years, when her husband, Bob, contacted the group for help searching for her truck in the river where Tammy’s dog was found shortly after she disappeared.
Weeks had turned into months, and there was still no sign of Tammy. But Bob never stopped looking for his high school sweetheart and wife of 42 years.
“[Bob said,] ‘I see what you're doing. I just need a few tips on how to use my sonar so that I can continue looking for my wife,” Leisek said.
So Bob was surprised, and even a bit skeptical, when Leisek said that not only could they help him, but they could travel there in the next week or two to do it in person.
“I just really didn't think that they would be interested in coming to Great Falls, Montana, to look for my wife,” Bob said.
Bob also had concerns about how Tammy, who suffered from mental health issues, would be portrayed.
“She had been diagnosed bipolar, had highs, ups and downs, and we just thought at that time that she left that she just was going off to harm herself somehow, possibly,” Bob said.
But he says the apprehension melted away once the Adventures With Purpose team arrived this May.
“When they showed up in their motorhome, pulling this enclosed trailer, it was like three buddies that were showing up to help me out,” Bob said.
After four days of searching, they found what appeared to be Tammy’s truck at the bottom of the river. They dove down to the riverbed, removed the license plate and handed it to Bob — the climax of their four-part YouTube series on Tammy's story.
“The moment alongside the river, when I'd seen the license plate, knew that it was her truck and that they told me that she was inside, it was just this whole two and a half years of load that just fell off of my shoulders,” Bob said.
On the banks of the Missouri River, the divers comforted the grieving husband as he clutched the license plate. Bob was overcome with the bittersweet realization that Tammy had finally been found — but she was gone.
“And that's when I knew why they do what they do.”
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